The Experience of Betrayal

Intimacy involves an element of risk. As two people draw close, they expose more vulnerable aspects of their personality.

This exposure, though risky is also deeply affirming. When I share with you parts of me of which I am ashamed, and you respond with loving kindness, I experience a lit bit of healing.

The development of deeper intemacy involves a series of cycles of self-disclosure and affirmation. In healthy relationships this cycle is mutual. It is a series of shared cycles of self-disclosure and affirmation.

I tell you that I was bullied as a child in school because I was a stutterer. You respond with empathy. You share with me that you due to your father’s unstable employment history you moved around a lot as a child and was never able to develop lasting friendships. I say, “I am your friend now and will remain your friend.”

The relationship thickens. As we work this cycle hesitency is transformed into trust. In a thousand different ways my identity begins to take root in you. A web of nurturing and healing memories become the common expression of our lives.

I come to depend on this mutual, life-giving cycle of self-disclosure and affirmation. I look to you with confidence knowing that I have entrusted to your care what is most fragile about my life. The fundamental emotion I feel is gratitude.

This does not mean that everything about our relationship is easy.

We disagree. We have different perspectives and sometimes competing priorities. There are moments when you are emotionally spent and you simply do not have the energy to respond to me the way I would hope for you to respond. And, of course, there are moments when I lack the emotional energy you seek from me.

But as our relationship grows, we come to recognize these as passing moments. As we practice the cycle of self-disclosure and affirmation, we learn to negotiate our time together appreciating the ebb and flow of emotional energy in the individual pattern of our lives.

But then one day — out of the blue — I discover things are not as they seem. The one I have come to trust, the one I have come to rely on, the one to whom I have given the more fragile parts of my life has been lying to me.

Instead of sharing intimacy with me, this one is seeking release or comfort or affirmation or who knows what from someone else or someTHING else. My world collapses in a moment.

Where once there had been comfort, there now is fear.
Where once there had been security, there now is danger.
Where once there had been trust, there now is confusion, anxiety, and doubt.

This is not a disagreement, a different point of view, or priority. This is LOSS. Sudden, irretrivable, and catastrophic loss.

Tumbling in me is a chaos of emotion: Anger, Fear, Frustration, Sadness, and Grief. Mostly Grief.

I do not know how to move forward from this place. You try to help. You say: Never again. But it happens again. And again. And again.

And now your helping only hurts. I feel lost without a future. I feel alone and ashamed, not knowing where to turn.

The is the experience of betrayal.


Image by Konrad Summers

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